Happy Holidays, Whovians. While regular recapper Sydney Lanier Burke enjoys the busy holiday season with her family, I'm filling in to recap this year's Doctor Who Christmas special. Titled "The Husbands of River Song", the special marks the return of the fan favourite after her last appearance in 2013's "The Name of the Doctor".
The episode begins on Christmas day, in 5343 on a cheery but isolated human colony. A man is hurrying down the street, obviously looking for someone of importance. He eventually stumbles upon the TARDIS, which is parked at the end of the street. The man, Nardole (Matt Lucas), knocks on the door and the Doctor emerges, wearing antlers. After yelling at the TARDIS for trying to "cheer him up", the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Nardole speak. Nardole mistakes the Doctor for an actual surgeon (well, the Doctor did go to medical school, didn't he?) and the Doctor leaves with Nardole to visit a spaceship.
A hooded figure emerges from the flying saucer and is revealed to be none other than River Song (Alex Kingston) herself! She clearly doesn't recognize the Doctor, despite some familiar banter between them. River angrily demands the Doctor tell her how he knows her; to which he responds by saying that "people usually need a flow chart" - a nice nod to the Fandom. She demands that he follow her to treat her husband (!!) eliciting a hilarious response from the Doctor.
River, the Doctor, and Nardole walk into a medical room, where he is surprised to see that her husband is not a future or past version of himself. The Doctor is obviously disappointed to see that she married someone else, other than himself. It's interesting that despite his other marriages (to Elizabeth I and Marilyn Monroe), he is rather jealous of hers. It does seem odd that River would fall in love with anyone other than the Doctor, but it would be right on the nose to see her marry a man to manipulate him.
River speaks to her husband with lofty romantic language, which is also completely uncharacteristic. Her husband turns out to be King Hydroflax (Greg Davies), a powerful man with a very rare diamond lodged in his brain. This answers the question about her marriage.
The Doctor tries to explain who he is to River, but she doesn't seem to understand what he's getting at. Instead, she explains that she really "married the diamond" and asks how they are going to murder the King and extract the diamond. This episode is peppered with callbacks to prior seasons, and one of the cutest happens in this scene, when River pulls a fez out of her bag while emptying its contents.
River's comfort with the thought of murdering someone obviously alarms the Doctor, who starts to ask if this is what River is like when he isn't around. His question is interrupted by King Hydroflax and his men. Apparently, not only is he encased in Baymax's armour, he has a detachable head. Without realizing it, River had married a cyborg. She delivers a brief, but amazing speech, and she and the Doctor make an escape- with Hydroflax's detached head stuffed in a bag.
They are teleported to a forest somewhere on the planet, where the Doctor is introduced to yet another husband, Ramone (perhaps River needed a ship?)
The Doctor tries yet again to tell River who he is, still shocked that she doesn't recognize him. She tells the Doctor that the reason they choose that particular planet was because of a mission they're calling "damsel". She and Ramone Phillip Rhys) are apparently seeking the Doctor. The code name is "damsel in distress" because the Doctor "needs a lot of rescuing". They show the Doctor a folio of photos, starting with the First Doctor and ending with the Eleventh, telling him that the damsel can change his face. The Doctor asks River if it's possible that he could have a face she hasn't seen, to which she replies that "even he has his limits". Obviously River, at that point, still believed the Doctor died on Trenzalore and was unaware that he was granted extra regenerations.
They eventually reach the TARDIS, and River, in need of a spaceship/time machine, decides to borrow it. This is something that she does "all the time", escaping the Doctor's notice. He doesn't look pleased, and asserts that "perhaps he'll notice now". River prepares him for the fact that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside. The Doctor responds with near glee, saying "finally, it's my go". He then very dramatically overreacts, dropping the act only to help River with the controls when the TARDIS refuses to take off.
She still doesn't realize it's him, probably because she believes it's impossible for him to have a face she hadn't seen (is that arrogance or ignorance?) River offers the Doctor a drink, who is amazing that she hid a bar in the TARDIS' console room. The Doctor determines that TARDIS won't leave because King Hydroflax's head is inside and his body is outside, a problem that is solved a few moments later when the Suit, now with Ramone's head, crashes through the doors. The Suit had taken Nardole's head earlier, and was now using Ramone to get to River.
River and the Doctor manage to land the TARDIS and escape into some sort of storage room. In a nice twist, as they escape, River grabs the Doctor's hand, ordering him to run - traditionally a move made by the Doctor and one met with annoyance when done to him. They emerge in a very fancy looking restaurant and River shows off yet another handy device - she is able to change her clothes with the touch of a button.
The Doctor learns that River never planned to return the diamond to the people exploited by the King, but instead to sell it for a large sum of money on a space cruise reserved for the worst types of criminals. The Doctor is obviously not a fan of the company, and "audibly frowns" at the table while River reads her diary. The Doctor questions her reading choice, noting that she appeared sad while she was reading it. River tells him that she's sad because the diary was almost done, and that the man who gave the diary to her was "the sort of man who would know how long of a diary you'd need". The Doctor asks if the man was somebody special, and River gives him a sad smile. She pauses, recomposes herself, and tells him that the man was "terribly useful", causing visible pain. But was she lying?
The buyer approaches the table, and gives River a sphere that will transfer the funds. The sphere was retrieved from within his brain, which, as the Doctor points out, was not something he should have done in the restaurant. They learn that the buyer block booked the restaurant, and, even worse, that he and the fellow patrols practically worship King Hydroflax.
Some quick thinking by the Doctor gives them an extra few minutes, by turning the crisis into a bidding war; auctioning off the King's head to the devout. Their brilliant escape is blocked by the Suit, which was freed by Flemming (Rowan Polonski), a member of the wait staff who knew of River's connection to the Doctor. The body determines that it will need a better head, and destroys its old one, leaving ash and the diamond. Flemming, the waiter, steals River's diary and begins reading some of their adventures from its pages. Flemming reveals that River had just been to Manhattan, where she had just lost her parents.
River confirms that while she loves the Doctor, she doesn't believe that the Doctor has ever loved her. She insists that she's not ideal bait, because the Doctor doesn't always come to her rescue. "You don't expect a sunset to admire you back" she says, while insisting that he "is certainly not in love enough to be standing here with me". The look on the Doctor's face is perfection, and he responds with her classic greating, "hello sweetie". Their "reunion" is cut short, but still comes with more hilarious banter. A meteor strike helps them make yet another escape.
The Suit finds them, escape plan be damned. The Doctor, still holding the banking sphere from earlier, plugs it into the body and laughs as the firewalls from various banks fry the body's circuit.
The Doctor joins River in the control room, and the both work together to try to prevent the ship from crashing into the planet below. As they work, they rattle off additional spouses - River was once married to Stephen Fry! River then discovers that planet they are about to crash into is Darillium (longtime fans will remember that the singing towers of Darillium is where she told the Doctor they spend their last night). River and the Doctor argue about who will be the martyr and go down with the ship in an attempt to save the lives of those on board, before realizing that they can't, and running back into the TARDIS. As the ship crashes, they're both thrown from the door.
The Doctor wakes first, and after checking on River, continues to move the TARDIS forward in time, until he comes across someone hunting for survivors. He tells the man that there won't be, and even if there were they weren't worth saving, and then points to the singing towers. Knowing that he eventually takes River to a restaurant overlooking the towers, he suggests to the man that he build a restaurant on that site. The Doctor offers the diamond him, telling him to be the one to build the restaurant. He then moves the TARDIS forward a wee bit further in time, to when the restaurant is open. He asks for a balcony table with a tower view, booking it for Christmas day four years in the future.
River eventually wakes up and luckily, it just happens to be on the exact day and time of their reservation. She "changes", and meets the doctor, dressed in a smashing suit. He gives her a gift - her sonic screwdriver (the one from her first appearance). They move to the balcony, where River marvels at both the singing towers and the Doctor's tears. His sorrow worries her, compounding the worry she has about her full diary. She confronts him about the stories about the two of them, one of them being that the last night they have together is at the singing towers. He responds with "spoilers", and tells her that there's no "such thing as happily ever after, it's just a lie we tell ourselves because the truth is too hard". River tells him that he's wrong, that happily ever after just means time, and says that he wouldn't understand. Apparently, though, he does. One night on Darillium lasts 24 years, giving them nearly a quarter of a century together.
River has had a few endings during her time on the show - even dying in her first appearance. Hopefully this is her last "ending", as it's a really sweet and fitting one for her character. Personally, I was thrilled to see her name in the opening credits, and thought it was a nice way to end her run on the show. The nods to past episodes, and the repetition of familiar phrases too was a wonderful gift to longtime fans of the show.
What did you think fellow Whovians? Is this the last, last time we'll see River? Is this a better end than her prior ones? What kind of mayhem will the two of them get up two now that they have the next 24 years to share? Is this fodder for future Big Finish Doctor Who Audio Dramas?